Louisiana's Way Home

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
Louisiana's Way Home Book Poster Image
Harrowing, heartfelt, funny tale of '70s Southern tween.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Louisiana's narrative voice has a quirky, formal Southern dignity and a fondness for big words like "infinitesimally" and "perpetually" -- which contrasts with the mannerisms and dialect of other characters. She's well-read and keeps pointing out that in the real Pinocchio story, Pinocchio smashes the cricket with a hammer at the story's beginning. The story also offers moments of historical insight --like when, in the days of rotary phones, Louisiana has trouble with the Directory Assistance operator. 

Positive Messages

Strong messages of friendship, family, kindness, resourcefulness, determination, and being able to decide for yourself who and what you want to be. Also, a lot of cynical advice from grifter Granny, including "It is best to smile. That is what Granny has told me my whole life. If you have to choose between smiling and not smiling, choose smiling. It fools people for a short time. It gives you an advantage."

Positive Role Models & Representations

There's a lot of thieving and deceiving in the story: Louisiana's been raised by her granny, who's basically a con artist, and at least at the beginning of the story, when things are pretty dire, she's resigned to telling adults whatever lie will get her and Granny out of the situation. Her new friend Burke makes metal slugs at his dad's shop and uses them to steal from vending machines. This is all part of the story, but it's overshadowed by lots of pure unexpected kindness, and moments where adult and kid characters just shine. Louisiana's new friend Burke is "the kind of person who, if you asked him for one of something, gave you two instead." Louisiana shows determination, strong friendship, creative thinking, willingness to stand up for herself -- and willingness to change her mind. Some adults are mean, some abandon their children, but others offer insight, compassion, and wisdom. 

Violence

There's not much physical violence but a lot of emotional violence in the form of adults who abandon children, with many ripple effects. A family curse and other dire events begin when a magician saws his wife-assistant in half and walks away forever (another magician puts her back together and they run off together).

Sex
Language
Consumerism

Occasional mentions of actual products, including Oh Henry! bars and Buick Skylark.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A car interior smells like tobacco. A minister smokes a pipe.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Louisiana's Way Home, by Kate DiCamillo, involves characters from Raymie Nightingale and begins two years after that book's conclusion. As in the first book, also set in the South during the 1970s, some really terrible things happen, starting with the 12-year-old narrator being yanked from her bed by her crazy scamming grandma in the middle of the night and hitting the road for parts unknown, with no word to her friends. There's a whole lot of traumatic abandonment in the story itself and in the past, where a magician's ditching his family has far-reaching consequences. Louisiana's grandmother has been conning, lying, and stealing to survive as long as anyone's known her, and involves Louisiana in her schemes. Kids are fond of stealing from vending machines, and some people are just plain mean and rotten. But coming out of all that, with many shining moments of low-key but life-changing kindness, is a strong sense of friendship, family, belonging, and determination, all seen through the eyes of a young girl you're rooting for from the first outrageous moment.

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What's the story?

LOUISIANA'S WAY HOME begins in the fall of 1977 as 12-year-old Louisiana Elefante, last seen in Raymie Nightingale, is forced from her Florida home in a road trip to parts unknown at 3 a.m. by her crazy granny, with no word to anyone. Before long Granny's laid low by a dental emergency, 12-year-old Louisiana drives the car off the road, and they're stranded in a small town in Georgia after defrauding a dentist and conning their way into a motel room. Which turns out to be just the beginning of Louisiana's troubles, and, she figures, only her due, considering the family curse. But when she meets Burke, a kid her own age, and Clarence, his pet crow, and other unexpectedly kind people, she hopes for some help getting back home to Lister, Florida, and her friends.

Is it any good?

Kate DiCamillo spins a harrowing tale of abandonment and family curses in a Southern small town in the '70s -- offset by determination, music, joy, kind strangers, and an irresistible kid narrator. Louisiana's Way Home features lots of  great characters, humor, and  heart. Young Louisiana's long-suffering outrage at being uprooted from home and friends (by a crazy adult) will resonate with many readers, who will find lots to cheer as she stands up to overwhelming circumstances. Here, after much struggle to find a phone, she's just failed to get the directory assistance operator to find the number of her friend back home:

"'Honey,' said the operator, 'it will all be fine.'

"And then there was a click and she was gone.

"I hung up the phone. I bent over and put my hands on my knees and worked to get air into my lungs.

"I thought, it will not all be fine.

"I thought, I am alone in the world, and I will  have to find some way to rescue myself."

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about stories of abandoned children, and why this is such a compelling theme for storytelling. How does Louisiana's Way Home compare to other examples you know about?

  • This story takes place in the '70s. What do you think would be different if it happened now?

  • Have you read Raymie Nightingale? Were you glad to get more of the same characters, or would you rather read something completely new?

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